Kashi is in Uttar Pradesh, on the banks of the river Ganga. It is the holiest city in India.God Vishnu, reclining on the milky ocean, opened his eyes and saw that all around him was a blue darkness. He said to himself, ‘I am alone. There is nothing but emptiness here. How shall I ever find happiness in this that is nothing?’ From out of the void, a voice spoke to him as if in reply. ‘Meditate, pray and search. You shall then find the city of golden light where everyone lives in happiness.’
Vishnu set his mind to prayer and deep meditation. Indeed, he prayed with such great resolve that he became lean and weak; his body wilted. A strange flush filled the air. Darkness lifted and there came into being light and water. Shiva, the father of the world- Viswanatha allowed a gem (mani) to drop form his ear (karna). It glowed in space and resounding murmur broke the stillness. The red glow of the gem turned into the city of golden light. Inspired, Vishnu grew radiant, and Brahma the Creator came out of his navel. Life began as Brahma started to create. Shiva caused the golden city of space to come down to earth near the river Ganga. It came to be known as Kashi or the shining one. The spot where Shiva’s gem fell is now the famous bathing ghat, Manikarnika. Kashi has another name, Varanasi, “Shiva’s presence lends it light, He grants grace to all those who seek him there.”
After Shiva married Parvati, the daughter of the mountain king Himavan, he said to the devas, the immortals of heaven, ‘I wish to take up my abode at Kashi. The gods shall come to see me there, and also the sages and the men and women of the world. I shall be known as Vishwanatha, the lord of the Universe, and Parvati as Vishalakshi, the wide-eyed one. Those who bathe in the sacred Ganga shall be released from all sorrows. I shall be the Jyotir Linga or the Light of Life’.
“The story of Jalandhara shows the might of Shiva. Once he grew so angry that the devas were terrified and begged him to turn his anger upon the waters. The oceans boiled with red heat, and from it rose the demon Jalandhara (born of the waters). Great was his valour and greater still his vows. But the force of his evil charms drove him to attack the people of the earth. He even dared to harass Brahma and the devas in their heavenly abode. Pressed hard, the devas mustered under Vishnu who showered him with his special arrows. But Jalandhara, born as he was of Shiva’s anger, just swallowed them with ease. Even the renowned discus of Vishnu suffered the same fate. The devas were completely at a loss. Vishnu, Brahma and the rest of them hastened to Shiva for help but the demon and his army pursued them right up to Mount Kailasa, the abode of Shiva. Jalandhara strode up the great mountain, swallowing all that came within his grasp.
At the sight of Shiva, clad in a tigerskin with serpents writhing round his neck, Jalandhara burst into laughter. ‘What a joke! The gods have come to you for help? Do they expect a mad man with matted hair to stand up to me? Don’t you know that Vishnu trembles at my approach? And at the sound of my laughter, Indra the king of the devas tumbles off his elephant?’ Shiva laughed softly. ‘I have seen nothing of the prowess you boast of. See if you can lift this’. He drew a small circle on the ground with his big toe.
The demon sneered with contempt, and breaking up the piece of earth under Shiva’s toe, wore it on his head, ‘Are you satisfied,’ he said turning his head towards Shiva. In a flash, the clod of earth on his head grew into a mountain as big as Kailasa and crushed the demon and his hordes under its weight. The city of Kashi is supposed to rest on Shiva’s trident and the river Ganga flows from his matted hair. Kashi has been the centre of culture from ancient times and learned personages come here from all parts of the world. Once upon a time there were hundreds of temples here. Most have crumbled with age. People now use the remains as building stones. It is said that the Aryan tribe of Kashi’s built the city nearly three thousand years ago.